night bookblack holly (Tor 978-1-250-81219-3, $27.99, hc, 320pp) May 2022.
Best-selling YA author Holly Black makes her long-awaited adult debut with dark fantasy night book. Set in ”the Silicon Valley of shadow magic” (aka Western Massachusetts), with reformed thief and conwoman Charlie Hall at its center, night book introduces a world where shadows can be removed, enhanced, or manipulated. It’s unpredictable magic with unclear goals yet hugely popular among those who can afford it. Charlie is wary of shadow tampering and is much more interested in putting her bad habits, which often brought her closer to the more devious side of magic, behind her. She now runs a bar, invests her money in her sister Posey’s college, and lives with her handsome boyfriend Vince, who sure has some secrets. Charlie too, so that’s fine. Then some kind of friend walks into the bar and asks her to use her special ‘talents’ to find her late boyfriend, and that same night Charlie sees a particularly nasty corpse in the same space as a creature composed of some particularly nasty shadow magic. Obviously, all is not well in her bustling town, and before you know it, she’s swept back into everything she wanted to leave behind, but this time, no surprise, the stakes are way higher. .
Black made some interesting choices in constructing the plot of night book. It goes back and forth in time, showing Charlie dealing with her current demons, then stepping away from her childhood to reveal how she became a habitual offender. However, the chapters based on his past are far less interesting than the contemporary storyline and stall the momentum of the plot. They are also somewhat predictable: single mother, bad choices in men, children pay the price. Charlie’s backstory borders on magic, but it’s nothing we haven’t read before (a suspicious thief steals magic books) and while Charlie, Posey and Vince all have their moments, they sometimes get lost. in a sea of side and supporting characters. It’s unfortunate because it prevents the three of them from going beyond the cliché (i.e. the sister is suspicious of the boyfriend, the heroine doubts that the guy is as good as he is looks, the main characters have sex to avoid intimate conversations.)
Globally, night book is an entertaining read that takes Charlie through multiple confrontations with creepy individuals, introduces a magical world that rules through tarot decks, proves that shadows are still mysterious, and offers a surprise or two. For his fans, the much-discussed ending will make perfect sense as it brings with it echoes of similar twists from his previous titles. Even though these characters are in their late twenties, night book will easily appeal to older teen readers of Black, who will likely see a lot here that is comfortably familiar to them.
Colleen Mondor, editor, is a writer, historian and critic who co-owns an aircraft rental company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and is a regular reviewer for the ALA Book List. Currently working on a book about the 1932 Mount McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More information can be found on its website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and others like it in the June 2022 issue of Venue.
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